“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

It’s about two weeks old, but this bit of news from Slidell just came across my email today.

My home is NOT one of those being condemned.  We got in fairly quickly to salvage, and through the good graces and much appreciated (although we probably don’t express it enough) help of our friend, Elaine (better known to a lot of you as Tegan), managed to get the tree off the roof, a blue roof over the resulting hole, and the house gutted and de-funked.  We sold the shell of what remained (in fact, it sold in seven days on the market), and moved on with our lives.

However irresponsible it may be to walk away and leave a house to rot, whatever a breach of civic responsibility that occurred, I have to say there is a certain level of sympathy I feel for the people who could not afford, either financially or mentally, to face the wrenching baggage of rescuing their home.  For us, that disposition was a six-month mental and emotional rollercoaster that preyed on my nerves and my health, a nightmare of paperwork, phone calls, insurance and real estate agents that I woke to every day from the moment the eyewall passed over my house in August until I signed over the home to its new owner in February.

And that’s just the logistics.  It doesn’t describe the amazement of walking into the house you had built new, that you walked into smelling of fresh paint and wood less than four years ago, the house you came home to as a new bride and a new mother, and finding this:

Living room after Katrina redecorated

And this:

Harry's first books

And this:

This WAS the guest room

I have over a hundred of these of my house alone.  An odd phenomenon is that the pictures look far better than the reality.  The flash robs the rooms of that dark gloom, fading the mold on the walls, bringing colors through the mud.  You can’t see the fish in the yard, or the mushrooms in the carpet.  And the smell.

They don’t capture the smell of mildew, and rotting food, of swamp and sewage.  They don’t capture the sweltering heat and the sweat, and the feeling of isolation that follows you into a gray-coated ghosttown devoid of any of the trappings of a modern middle class life.  We labored on the house at most times alone on our street, with rescue and media helicopters circling overhead.  We worked to get out before sundown, with no electricity to light the boarded interior of our house, no water to rinse the few things we thought we could save, no place to buy gasoline or ice or a cold drink.  You brought in what you needed, and you brought out very little.
I lasted three days.  On the third solid day of salvaging, I announced that if it wasn’t an item of sentimental value, it wasn’t coming out of the house.  Actually trying to clean and restore what we brought out took another backbreaking week, nonstop.  Pictures also do not capture the mental anguish of making decision after decision of what to save and what to abandon.  I still cling to my hope chest – in my family for three generations, passed from mother to daughter – in vain hope that somehow it could be refinished.  Like so many other things we dragged out, eventually it will be taken to the curb and abandoned as refuse, ruined and sad.  Hope dies slowly.

So my sympathies do lie with the people who just could not face returning to the inevitable.  Who, in order to go on with their lives, to recover something looking like normal, chose to simply move forward and move on.  Or, who were uninsured, underinsured, or given short shrift by their policies, were forced to choose between renovation and financial ruin, who didn’t have the broad backs and shoulders (and strong stomachs) of friends and family to help them pull their crumbling drywall and ruined treasures out of their homes.  I may not condone their neglect, but I understand it.

June 15th, 2006 at 3:44 pm